Laws of Democracy: Samsudeen Sarr Says Never Mind
                                           By Foday Samateh

“I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, but here I am to speak what I do know:”
Mark Anthony
Yahya Jammeh’s disdain for democratic laws isn’t a debate anymore. Even the ones
he put in the books. That question had been settled long since anyone cared to
remember. What else would anyone expect? He came to power through unlawful
means. And either by the reflex of instinct or paranoia of insecurity he has employed
those same means to consolidate his throne. The open secret is that he has made
no secret time and again about his unlawful schemes to cling to it.
But for Lt. Col. Samsudeen Sarr to stand up in the ringside, stamping his feet,
fisting the air, pulling the ropes and cheering on at the top of his lungs as his
former puppet-master spews his periodic sense-defying spasmodic rants is beyond
ridiculous. It’s unashamed preposterous sycophancy. Any serious voice commenting
on a national issue of any country would be embarrassed to think, much less utter
this balderdash:
[Jammeh] …sounded perfectly normal to me when the last time in his angry mood
said when it comes to Gambia’s national security, the Constitution and the laws of
the country were secondary in his agenda. (1st Sabarry essay, August 11, 2009)
For starters, what is perfectly normal about a president in angry mood vowing to
gutter the Constitution and the laws of the country for any reason? The most
perturbing disappointment about Sarr’s fanatical endorsement is that a man with his
demonstrable claim to gumption would add his voice to something so devoid of
reason and sense. If Jammeh is allergic to comprehending things as they are to
think that the laws are the price to pay for national security, everyone else knows
that national security and the Constitution are not an either-or options or mutually
exclusive.
The inauguration after every election is mandated by the law for a single purpose:
the swearing-in of the president-elect to openly and freely declare his intent and
duty to follow the letter and spirit of the law. During those moments, Yahya Jammeh
places his right hand on the Holy Koran to take the oath to defend, protect and
uphold the Constitution without fear, favor, affection or ill-will at all times. Repeat: at
all times, not just sometimes, not only when it’s convenient, and
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certainly not only when he’s in a happy mood. And as soon as he says “So help me
God,” the contract of trust he enters into as president with the people is
consummated. He is now legally and morally bound to do just that. All the pomp and
ceremony marking the occasion are just “secondary in the agenda” of inauguration.
So if he willfully acts in contravention with the provisions of the Document of
National Consent, imperfect as it might be, he stands in clear violation of the sacred
oath to God and country.
The obligation of any honest writer choosing to speak on the matter was to tell
Jammeh this: The Constitution establishes the sovereignty of The Gambia and
empowers the President to keep the peace, maintain law and order, and secure and
protect the people from all enemies of the country foreign and domestic. That is as
broad a concept of national security as it can get and it in no way constrains the
President from performing his duty required by the office. The reason Jammeh is
charged with the responsibility of defending national security like no other Gambian
at this time is simply by virtue of his being the President, an office created by the
Constitution. The powers, privileges and reasonable exercise of discretion that come
with the office are all identified and defined by the Constitution or relevant statute.
Among them is the unique power of Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the
most important institution for the defense and protection of national security. The
Constitution is thoughtful enough to trust him with the power to declare a state of
emergency in the event of a grave threat to national security. It doesn’t in any shape
or form constrain him to defend the country. Hence, no conceivable reason exists to
ditch it in the name of national security. Any claim to the contrary will surely sound
very abnormal to both logic and commonsense.
Sarr can make all the happy talk about discerning a reason where none exists. He is
secured from authoritarian lawlessness in the safety of Newark, New Jersey in the
law-abiding world, oceans apart from the combustible atmosphere of The Gambia
where the Constitution and the laws become secondary in Jammeh’s phantom
agenda. Sarr doesn’t believe for one moment in his heart that it is a normal condition
for any country to have the Constitution and the laws declared null and void as long
as the President invokes national security. Why then has he given these reasons for
migrating to America?:
Having America and losing The Gambia is the best thing to happen to my family, and
me especially, when I look at my children today. They are also very much
appreciative of my decision to bring them here where they consider their permanent
home now. I was always afraid of their future as a soldier in The Gambia’s post-coup-
d’état era with a justifiable fear that every day I left my house to go to work could be
my last day in this world.
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The frequent agony of encountering death, the atmosphere constantly impregnated
with conspiracy and betrayal, the superstitious mentality of having more faith in
jujus and marabouts than God our Creator and above all, the occasional pain of
seeing men under my command killed or others being killed by them was a lifestyle I
was happy to abandon for good…But in America I am thankful for realizing my
greatest potentialities, enjoying the best freedoms, the diversity, the culture and
certainly the people. If there is anything I should tell Jammeh therefore, it should be
to praise him rather than blame him for letting me go. By my judgment, everything
that I was supposed to do for The Gambia had been done in the same way I accept
that The Gambia has finished offering me everything it could for the rest of my life.
And I thank God for it. (2nd Sabarry essay, August 20, 2009)
Once again I rely on Mark Anthony and say after him: “Bear with me; my heart is in
the coffin there with [Gambia], and I must pause till it come back to me.”
Let us assume for the sake of argument that a certain law or a particular provision of
the constitution unreasonably deprives the President of necessary authority or
power to defend national security. Jammeh still has no iota of reason or justification
to beat his chest on television like a championship boxer to render his readiness to
defy the law. He can simply redress that precarious eventuality by employing
another power bestowed on him by the same Constitution he thinks so little of. All
he has to do is send draft legislation to the National Assembly seeking to amend the
particular law or provision. If he makes his case to the assembly and the country
that he isn’t wantonly amassing more power for the imperial presidency, but gives a
compelling explanation for the intent and purpose of the amendment with the
purview of a robust, effective set of tools for national security, any reasonable
legislature, and a lapdog one he already has for that matter, will pass the bill and
send it back to him for signing.
Jammeh has no authority to throw away the Constitution to satisfy his mood
swings. He has also no authority to choose what laws to abide by. I was going to
remind him about the sacred oath to God and country, but he is already snickering
and saying with that sarcastic petty-dictatorial grin: So what? I guess Sarr too will
echo that cynicism with an earth-shaking salute before breathlessly blurting out to
“the alpha and omega”: Yes Sir! Whatever you want Your Excellency.
Has it ever occurred to Sarr how readily Jammeh likes to remind the nation
whenever he hires or fires a cabinet member by monotonously prefacing his
announcement with, “By the powers conferred on him by the Constitution...”? For
Jammeh, the presidency means only one thing: power without limits or restraints.
That mindset will never change. He hasn’t transitioned from the Chairman of the
military ruling council to the President of the Second Republic, and he never will.
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For Sarr of Newark, New Jersey, that’s absolutely alright, especially when “the sole
ruler” comes out screaming and scaring the country as the Fangbondi of national
security. Sarr may accuse me of harping too much on one bad note. He might even
take refuge in the time-tested mea culpa to claim that his endorsement of Jammeh’s
unthinking man’s harum-scarum pronouncement was a slip of the fingers on the
keyboard, and that the error hadn’t be caught during proofreading. I will accept that
pretext but for this in a third essay:
In 1996 and 1997, Gambian dissidents determined to overthrow the government
respectively attacked Farafenni and Kartong military camps from Senegal.
Altogether, nine soldiers were killed in the attack at a time when the dust of the
coup has not quite subsided in the country. The attacks were foiled in record
rapidity but created an atmosphere of insecurity and fear in the country that we
thought was going to negatively impact the tourist industry needed to flourish for
the economic health of the country. To alleviate the concerns of the frightened public
therefore we had decided to hold a press conference at the army headquarters
broadcasted on TV where the individuals involved and details of the attack were
explained to the public and press. It was all legally wrong because according to the
law, cases of that magnitude under investigation could not be treated in the manner
we did…If I were confronted with the same dilemma, I would have still done it the
same way. (Essay on Dead Ghanaians in The Gambia, August 31, 2009)
There you have it: The self-deluding notion that the laws can take a hike because
Sarr or Jammeh is confronted with the more important task of defending national
security. But Sarr is very economical with the truth in the above quotation. Certainly
the law didn’t bar him from holding a press conference to brief the country about the
law enforcement efforts after a serious national security breach, and assure the
public that the situation had successfully been put under full and complete control.
The law would permit him to inform the country on how the attacks happened, what
the casualty rate was, what damage had been inflicted on the nation’s infrastructure
or national security installations, how many suspects were involved, how many of
them had been apprehended and what kind of criminal charges they would face.
What the law wouldn’t empower Sarr or Jammeh is to hurl suspects before TV
cameras and gun-toting soldiers inside the military headquarters and scream at
them to confess their heinous crimes. That’s what we have the courts for. The
judiciary is an entire third branch of our government. Sarr’s adamancy to do the
same thing all over again after knowing the fact that he would be breaking the law
should earn him an Oscar for honesty; and then an instantaneous recall of the gold
statuette for highfalutin disregard for the law.
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It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that his self-righteous declaration of intent run linear
from him to others on the receiving end — traitors or prisoners of war they might be.
But he was singing a whole different song when he found himself on the wrong side
of lawless power. His readers still feel agonizing with him in Coup D’état by the
Gambia National Army as he gave a heartrending account of his horrendous
detention at Mile Two Maximum Security Prison. He ended up on Death Row just 24-
hours after the coup leaders appointed him Minister of Trade and Industry. By his
narration, Sana Sabally and Sadibou Hydara, two of the coup leaders acting as the
law or lords unto themselves, decided that he and other senior military officers were
a grave and gathering threat to national security and so drove them to the notorious
“hellhole” and locked them up there. He was on Death Row for ten months without
the right to any semblance of the Due Process, because the Constitution and the
laws were just secondary in the agenda of the military ruling council. He was at the
mercy of unaccountable men who proclaimed themselves the law and decreed their
actions on the dictate of the state of their mood.
Even in his recent essays under critical review in this series, Sarr’s unmitigated
hatred for Edward Singhateh is palpable. He still wouldn’t forget and forgive the
former Defense Minster for insisting and persisting with the other members of the
military junta to seal his and other “security” detainees’ fate with extra-judicial
execution. According to his account, Edward sought their execution to ensure
“national security” as advised by Valentine Strasser, another lawless, unlawful
military leader, of Sierra Leone. Wait a second, it just flashed in my mind that the
Constitution had been suspended during that time. I remember more: by that same
serial, compulsive violator of laws, Jammeh and his band of law-flouting coup
leaders. Sarr and the other detainees could have been hanged or shot in the back
alleys of Mile Two, because the leaders of the country unbounded by all forms of
judicial restraint thought that national security necessitated it. Just like Basiru
Barrow and others, as Sarr wrote in his book, were arrested and executed, and then
the next morning, the rulers of the country empowered by draconian decrees lied to
the nation in a manufactured announcement that the slain soldiers had died in a
shoot-out with loyal forces as they embarked on a treasonous mission to overthrow
their own treasonous junta. Only by some divine intercession Edward couldn’t get
his wish of having the security detainees killed as well, because Jammeh’s mood
wasn’t angry enough at Sarr and his fellows, and so they continued breathing in
that grueling condition.
Like in all such lawless circumstances, mistrust and suspicion soon divided the
ruling council and the precarious situation turned itself into a vicious cycle. Sana
and Sadibou were nabbed and driven to Mile Two to join the security detainees,
because others decided that it was in the best interest of national security to throw
them behind bars. Sarr told us the full story of Sadibou. Before his fall as
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the Interior Minister in charge of Mile Two Sadibou had famously expressed his
willingness to arrange the burial ceremony of any detainee in his prison rather than
show them humanitarian sympathy — that gem of nature, that last place of hope for
those in desperate need — when they require medical attention. He had nothing to
worry about because he was then the law. But after he had been whisked to his
prison, tortured with electric shocks, clubs, rubber truncheons and sodium water,
and later needed critical medical help for a preexisting heart condition, Edward, his
fellow coup leader and successor as the junta’s man-in-charge of the security
detainees, denied him access to indispensable hospital care. A victim of the situation
of his own creation, he dropped dead in his cell. The overarching explanation for his
sad fate was that the Constitution and the laws were just secondary in the agenda
of colleagues he had fallen apart with at his expense.
And the Constitution has never been restored to its status as the supreme law of
the land to be binding on every action of the government, because national security
has been proclaimed primary in the agenda of Jammeh. That’s why Sarr would later
write:
Spending ten months in Mile 2 from a personal experience was enough to teach me
how to seriously avoid re-entering there. In 1999 when I thought I could once again
go there for the false allegation that I physically attacked my boss [Baboucarr Jatta,
the Army Chief of Staff], I left the country for good. (2nd Sabarry essay, August 20,
2009)
I referenced all these instances from his book and essays with no intent or purpose
whatsoever to equate the wrongfully-detained officers of the security forces with
armed and dangerous rebels who could care less about the indiscriminate taking of
lives on their violent mission to overthrow the government. I’m highlighting the
consequences of self-righteous application of the law or disregard for it. The law is
more broadminded than Sarr and Jammeh are willing to give it credit.
Simultaneously, the law can accord certain rights to even the most hardened
criminals, empower the law enforcement with adequate tools to protect national
security, and preserve the essence of civilization from descending into brutish
anarchy.
Sarr is opposed to violence as a means of political change. His unequivocal concern
about its ramifications is a recurring theme in his book and essays. That is a noble
thing. And I sincerely admire him for that. Indeed, he isn’t alone in pondering over
this consequential prospect for society. Countless others and I strongly share this
concern. But violence is not inevitable, nor should it be a permanent pending
condition or state of nations. Logic and experience in other parts of the world prove
that in relatively ideal circumstances, only the psychopath
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launch violence for change. If only so many presidents wielding undemocratic
powers share this philosophy and unclog the arteries of change for democracy to
flow thorough the veins of society, there would be less political heart-attacks. If they
make the Constitution and the laws primary in their agenda, how wonderful so many
miserable and wretched parts of the world would be or become.
But in Sarr’s judicious mind, the blame for malaise and mayhem in those parts of
the world must be assigned in a different direction: “I now know that the world
suffers more from unhappy, stifled people trying to do good than it does from those
who are simply content with themselves.” Really?! Obviously, this isn’t the voice of
Sarr on Death Row in Mile Two begging and crying for the intervention of people who
were unhappy and stifled by his unjust incarceration. This is the voice of Sarr, the
Americana, enjoying life and family in New Jersey, and never having to worry about
that dreadful midnight knock from a petty dictator’s minions or secret police.
And talking of America, Sarr would love to see the land of the free and the home of
the refugee make its most sacred national document — the Constitution of the
United States — secondary in his agenda of quest to punish Joe Wilson, the
recalcitrant Congressman for yelling “You lie” to President Obama during a joint
session of Congress:
The only reason I think the man could act in such a silly manner is because, like
most of the typical rednecks in the country, he still cannot accept the reality of a
black man leading this nation. Such a disrespectful gesture had never been directed
to a president and the office he represents throughout the history of the nation. But
Obama, who is way more evolved than these retards, humbly accepted the man’s
apology. The precedence created in failing to punish the Congressman will in the
future encourage more heckling of future of presidents in the middle of their
speeches. I argue that such actions should be totally illegalized through retroactive
legislation to punish the man who occasioned such enactment. (The Self-
Preservation Instinct Syndrome, September 14, 2009)
I agree with Sarr on everything he said in the above quotation except the part,
“retroactive legislation to punish the man who occasioned such enactment.” I only
hope he was merely venting the justifiable outrage millions shared at the
Congressman, since I assume he knows that in America retroactive laws are
unconstitutional, given their cancerous danger to democracy itself. And thank God,
the US President dare not go on television and issue threats in the name of national
security to ditch the centuries-enduring document of rule of law, just because he is
in an “angry mood.” Since I understand that Sarr is a fan of Churchill, I wish to
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remind him of an adage of the British political sage: “Democracy is the worst form of
government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Churchill made the remark not when he was in power, but when he was informed
that he had just lost it. For both the leaders and the led, democracy is the best hope
for freedom, justice, liberty, and peace in all their complex wholes. Yes, from time to
time, it can be messy, noisy and inconvenient. It even allows a xenophobic
Congressman to spit racist bile and vile on the leader of the free world, the President
we all love so dearly. It also allows an immigrant who fled for his life and limp and
freedom of expression from a petty dictatorship in his native homeland to freely air
his outrage at a son-of-the-Confederacy US Congressman in the land of Constitution
without being lynched or thrown in the penitentiary. God Bless Democracy!